Insecurity and violence in Central America

Cvil insecurity is a big challenge to human development in Central America, but this challenge comes with a solution.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

No strong-arm tactics, but no soft touch either. Remedies for the heightened levels of insecurity in the region involve the application of "smart authority" within the context of respect for democracy and adherence to the rule of law, according to the Report on Human Development in Central America 2009-2010, Opening spaces for citizen security and human development. The release of the report was presided over by Mauricio Funes, the president of El Salvador, together with Rebeca Grynspan, Director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean; Jessica Faieta, the United Nations Resident Coordinator and Resident Representative of UNDP for El Salvador; Juan Daniel Alemán, the Secretary General of the Central American Integration System (CAIS); and Hernando Gómez Buendía, the general coordinator of the Report.

According to the Report, civil insecurity is a big challenge to human development in Central America, but this challenge comes with a solution. The document states that both the strong-arm and the soft touch approach have failed and must evolve toward a “smart” strategy of citizen security for human development. This new comprehensive strategy must include preventive and coercive actions, show congruence with the justice system and respect the establishment of the values of civility. Opening spaces for citizen security and human development asserts that the keys to success for this new security strategy include, among other measures, real political will, clear leadership, and continuity from one government to the next.

“This Report compels us to look more closely at how we formulate regional strategies,” said President Funes, who added that “success in the fight against crime will not be achieved without the full exercise of democracy.”

“If there is a willingness to solve one’s problems, first one has to know them, and in order to know them, one has to admit them, never deny them,” continued President Funes.

Central America has become the region with the highest levels of non-political crime worldwide. According to Report data, approximately 79,000 people have been murdered in the region over the past 6 years. Despite the significant differences among the region’s countries, the average murder rate reached 33 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2008, three times greater than the global average.

Despite these heightened levels of violence, solving the problem of insecurity that is afflicting the region is possible within the framework of democracy, according to the HDR for Central America.

“Apart from its economic costs, which are concrete and indisputable, one of the main reasons why this is a crucial issue is that violence and crime are affecting the day-to-day decisions of the population, making insecurity a clear hindrance to human development,” said Rebeca Grynspan. "One of the most difficult costs to quantify is that of lost freedoms."

Grynspan added that “violence is affecting one of the essential forms of freedom. No aspect of human security is as basic as keeping the population from being victimized by fear and physical violence.”

Security, according to the UNDP report, involves intelligent diagnosis, a real political will and an integrated system for adopting and executing short- and long-term actions. The keys to success include making objective, reliable information available on an ongoing basis for the purpose of understanding the development of insecurity, guiding work in the field, evaluating strategies, providing oversight of officials, and adopting the necessary changes. According to the Report, security is not just a problem for police and judges, which is why a comprehensive and coherent policy requires the full participation of the organizations responsible for strategies of prevention.

“Security is everyone’s right, and the state has the duty to provide it,” said Hernando Gómez Buendía, the general coordinator of the Report. “Without security, there is no investment. Without investment, there is no employment, and without employment, there is no human development. Security is an essential part of the development strategy of nations and cities.”

Security requires a very hands-on management of the problem, and an intelligent citizen security strategy for human development would not be complete without the participation of local governments. This assumes direct knowledge of the problem, proximity, decentralization and flexibility on the part of national and local authorities, says the Report.

Citizens must be well informed of the problem, its solutions, and the progress made by the implemented strategy. The Report also emphasizes that citizen security, like human development, is of the people, by the people and for the people.

The most effective solutions for insecurity respect and reinforce the rule of law. More social cohesion and an intelligent system of citizen security and criminal justice guarantee a more equitable and lasting security. It is possible for the democracies of Central America to reduce the insecurity of the region’s people, confirms Opening spaces for citizen security and human development.

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